Every so often, the braintrust of Battle Red Blog comes together to tackle the big questions that run rampant across Houston Texans fandom.
Unfortunately, Tim, Vega, and tehGrindCrusher had better things to do such as be an international man of mystery, carefully concoct the next big thing in the world of homebrews, and take their turn in the city-wide rotation to shine Katy High School's trophy collection.
As for the rest of us, and before Tim sics new writer(s) on the world, we thought about the Texans' offseason and what needs to happen for Houston to reach Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey.
Your three areas/position groups to improve on this team are?
BigFatDrunk: Inside Linebacker, right tackle, and wide receiver. Quarterback should be on there, but it won't be. Shaun Cody must have pictures of general manager Rick Smith fornicating with cattle, so nose tackle will never, ever be addressed.
Brett Kollman: As of right now ILB, RT, and Safety are the big three. We need one of those hybrid Safety-Backer prospects that seem to be popping up throughout college these days to handle scat backs and tight ends in man coverage. We don't play zone that much, so we need someone who is fast and has excellent change of direction ability to stay with guys like Aaron Hernandez on whip and arrow routes out of the backfield. Arthur Brown, Khaseem Greene, and Alec Ogletree are all well suited for this scheme, and I expect them to heavily consider trading up if they get within 6-7 picks of Houston.
As for RT, I'm looking at someone like Kyle Long, son of Howie and brother of Chris. He plays LG at Oregon, but has insanely long arms and excellent hand usage. His lower body strength is superb, and he moves well enough in space that he could not only thrive, but flourish as a RT in Kubiak's offense. He will be climbing draft boards up until April, and has a shot at going in the first round as people look at more tape on him. If he falls to the top of the second and we have picks to spare, I am all for trading our second and third round pick away to get him. We still have the compensatory pick at the bottom of the third, so it won't hurt quite as bad.
As for Safety, my current third-ish round man crush is D.J. Swearinger out of South Carolina. Rangy, instinctive, and an uncanny spatial awareness that allows him to knife through traffic to make tackles, he is an ex-corner that also brings man coverage skills to the table. I also expect him to climb boards up until April, and we may never even get a chance to draft him. It's a damn shame, too, because I'm in love with him more than any other safety in this class.
Now, if we don't resign Barwin, OLB instantly becomes a position that has to be addressed in the third round before safety. This will also likely eliminate any trade up options as we will need all four picks in the first three rounds to reload on these four positions. An OLB/DE tweener prospect to target in that range would be Tank Carradine, who was on his way to a low first round status (or more) before tearing his ACL late in the season. He was Bjeorn Werner's other half at FSU, and when he returns to health will provide a nice balance of power to Mercilus' speed on the edge.
MDC: I'm working under the assumption that we are absolutely not going to change QBs between now and opening day 2013. So, that in mind, I'd say WR2, RT, and LB (not just ILB). Maybe DeVry Posey was on his way to becoming your WR2 of the future (though I don't think so), but his Achilles injury means that relying on him and that laughable "six-month rehab" that was thrown around Sunday night is a bad bet. Camp Star Jean is a nothing. Keshawn Martin is a less talented Jacoby (in all facets of his existence). Kevin Walter is roughly 547 years old. Jeff Maehl is rumored to exist, but like the ROUSes, I have my doubts about that. (Also like the ROUSes, he's slow and ill-equipped to play in the NFL.) Ideally, I think this position is one where you can make an immediate fix in the draft, either with a low first-round guy like Cordarrelle Patterson or Justin Hunter, or with a second-rounder like Robert Woods.
At RT, another year of Derek Newton and whatever else they find on the scrap heap will likely be enough to kill me, so I'd hope this is addressed rather quickly. I fear it will not be. I'd like to see this addressed in FA, not the draft, so that we can plug in someone who is ready to play immediately and not suffer through a learning curve. Names? I dunno. Ryan Clady is a free agent, but he's unlikely to be affordable for this team as a RT when he's seeking LT money. Someone like Gosder Cherilus would be an upgrade over Newton, as would Jermon Bushrod. (Heh...Bushrod.)
Finally, at LB, I think you can bid adieu to Connor Barwin, which kinda sucks, because he's a fun guy to have on the team. I'm not ready to live in a world where your starting OLBs are Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus. Plus, even after Brian Cushing returns, lack of ILB2 and any depth behind them is a huge hole that somehow is made worse by trying to fill it with Bradie James. I hate Bradie James.
TexansDC: WR, ILB, and S. I think the Texans need to add another outside threat that can get open. Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels cannot carry the load themselves, especially when doubled or tripled. Kevin Walter’s a great guy and will be an excellent receivers coach, but I think his days outside may be done. Inside linebacker needs an overhaul. Brian Cushing is returning from injury, Darryl Sharpton is always hurt, so the corps could use an injection of youth, as insurance, and athleticism, to cover tight ends. I know RT is a popular answer, but I would do anything to make sure Quintin Demps and Shiloh Keo stay off the field. The Texans should replace those two with two guys with actual potential.
Rivers McCown: Wide receiver, inside linebacker, and third safety. Quarterback, too, if there's a draft-eligible player that Houston thinks can be a star.
UprootedTexan: If I see any combination of Dobbins/James/Ruud next year, I'll bruise my foot from kicking the cat across the room. Combine that with the oft-injured Darryl Sharpton and abounding questions about what kind of effect Cushing's injury had on him, and ILB is easily one of the top priorities of this offseason. Second, I really think it's time to end the Derek Newton Experience, and find a new right tackle of the future. Lastly, I would say improved safety depth would be a godsend. I took enough antacids when Shiloh Keo and Quintin Demps were on the field that I'm now eligible for a sponsorship with Tums.
Are there any Houston free agents that must be resigned? If so, who and why?
BFD: Forsett, Casey, Dobbins, and McCain should all be high priority. Quin should be the highest priority. I only bring back Barwin if it's a good deal. I think teams are going to overlook his poor production in 2009 and 2012 and focus on his 2011, where he ended the season hot over his final nine games and collected more sacks than the rest of his career combined. Someone will overpay for it. I don't think it'll be us.
BK: Obviously Quin is the highest priority, but Rick Smith should also try to sign Barwin on the cheap for a two year deal. He generated a lot of pressure throughout the season (in fact, he came second in QB hits and third in hurries), but just didn't get home enough to put up gaudy sack totals. He really missed Cushing's interior blitzing ability that helped him get so many sacks (and stacks) in 2011. With Cushing back in 2013, I expect we might see a re-invigoration in Barwin as he tries to get a huge pay day while he still can at the age of 27-28. I'm indifferent to resigning McCain as I feel Harris is just as good (at getting burned at inconvenient times), and Casey can probably be resigned relatively easily. I don't think the Texans will have any spare room in the cap next season when all is said and done, but I do think that they will be able to resign everyone we need.
MDC: The only one who must be resigned is Glover Quin. I'd like to see them keep Barwin (they won't) and James Casey (they might) and Brice McCain (they probably will).
TDC: The must is Glover Quin, because he fits Wade Phillips’ defense like a glove. I would like to see them try and keep James Casey and Connor Barwin, too. Barwin had a down season, but him returning would actually free up the Texans from spending another high draft pick on outside linebacker.
RM: No. But it'd be really difficult for them to not keep Glover Quin considering they have the franchise tag and know that good safeties are going to draw at least $15 million guaranteed on the open market. I don't think the Texans come into this offseason with a lot of must-keep guys, but they definitely have a few that offer flexibility that would be hard to lose.
UT: Without question, Glover Quin must be resigned. I mentioned why in the previous question but I'll say it again, behind Quin and Manning is a radioactive dumpster fire of safety depth. I wouldn't trust any of them to pick their noses, let alone interceptions. I would also say James Casey because I don't feel like there are that many players out there who could play the H-back role the way he does. Lastly, and this is contingent on what is done with Ben Tate, but I would keep Justin Forsett as depth for the RB corps.
What should be done with backup running back Ben Tate?
BFD: Tate is good when he's healthy, which is like saying I'm attractive when I'm not fat. We have him under contract for one more year, but I don't think there's much trade value here anymore.
BK: He wants to be an elite feature back, and he has the talent to be an elite feature back. Might as well try to find a team that needs an elite feature back (Green Bay, Detroit, Cincinnati, Atlanta, or Arizona) and trade him for a fourth round pick.
MDC: As soon as I get my time machine working, we'll go back to March 2012 and shop him for a high draft pick. Barring that, I think you cut bait with him this season, get what you can, and either resign Justin Forsett or draft Montee Ball in the third round (or both).
TDC: I think he comes back, but I would not be surprised if he was part of a draft day deal to either help the Texans move their third round pick up to the second round or to net an extra fourth rounder.
RM: At this point you might as well keep him and see if you can get him fixed for next season. His trade value has bottomed out. Maybe if the Texans get some leads early in 2013, they can work out a deadline deal for him? I was all about Tate getting traded for a second-rounder last offseason, which was a value deal. Maybe you get a fourth-rounder for him this offseason ... I have to believe that he's got the potential to do more than that.
UT: I'd trade Tate to some team that's desperate for running help. We're not going to resign him as a free agent next year and we should at least get something for him while his value is still relatively high.
What should be done with defensive end Antonio Smith and his large salary cap number?
BFD: Restructuring Smith's contract seems to be the obvious play. If he won't do this, we should explore other options. I think he stays.
BK: He was so good in 2012 that he deserves an extension anyway, so you might as well give him a couple more years and alleviate the cap at the same time.
MDC: According to Spotrac, his cap hit is $9.8M next season (up from $9.3M this year). I like the Ninja, and that doesn't seem out of line with his value on the open market, but I think you still try to renegotiate, maybe extending him out another two seasons (through 2015) if it means you can shave the hit by a couple million each season without leaving yourself on the hook for something stupid should you have to release him before 2015.
TDC: If there were a good 3-4 defensive end projected to go late first round, I’d cut bait, but there’s not so I won’t. Smith should get a three-year extension.
RM: Well, if they don't restructure him, I don't have an inherent problem with outright releasing him. I doubt it'll come to that though. He wasn't 2011-good, but Smith is still a guy who can come into pressure by the bushels a few games a year.
UT: If there's any way to convert his cap number to bonus money, I'd like to keep Antonio Smith. I've not seen enough out of Jared Crick to make me think he's ready to assume that DE role.
Should any position coaches or coordinators be released? If so, who? Any speculative names you want to toss out as replacements?
BFD: Joe Marciano should've been fired years ago. I wonder if Greg Knapp would be interested in returning.
BK: Marciano, and literally anyone. Unlike Joe, I'm sure even BFD could have turned a unit that Jacoby Jones and Trindon Holliday into an unstoppable killing machine if he really wanted to.
MDC: Ha. HA! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Yes, there's one who should go. Names? Open a phone book and pick literally anyone. Odds are, it's an upgrade. As for the rest of the staff, I wouldn't mind seeing Dennison go get a job somewhere else, but I wouldn't get rid of him if he didn't.
TDC: I find it hard to believe that there’s not some young up-and-comer coordinator in college who the Texans couldn’t lure away, like, say, Florida’s DJ Durkin. Aside from the Marciano replacement, I would like to see Greg Knapp back in Matt Schaub’s ear. I’d take a look at Chris Olsen’s performance, too, because if his job is to help manage the salary cap then he’s not been stellar of late. Yes, I just went down the financial route.
RM: Joe Marciano should be released. I have no replacement names to throw out because to do so would be demeaning the value of the common man, who by default is a better special teams coach than Joe Marciano was last season.
UT: Obviously Joe Marciano needs to stand trial for crimes against
humanitythe Texans, but I'd also add WR coach Larry Kirksey to that list. He's been with the team for six years now and I'm hard pressed to think of a receiver that has developed under his tutelage. Andre is a G.O.A.T. and Walter has his role pretty well cemented. But Keshawn Martin, LeStar Jean, et. al. haven't shown any kind of progress since being signed to the team. I mean I'm a little more patient with Posey and Martin to a certain extent since they're rookies, but leaving them aside, can ANYONE think of a WR that Kirksey has developed at all?
How active should the Texans be in free agency or should they stick to their draft-build philosophy?
BFD: I don't see how we'll be able to compete if FA with so much money already committed. I think we'll need to make targeted signings and do well in the draft.
BK: The only position I would look at in free agency is a veteran WR that can be brought in to play the DeVier Posey role while he recovers from his Achilles tear (which saddens me, because I think he's an excellent receiver). Everything else should be addressed in the draft.
MDC: I think at key positions (based on the style we play), you've got to get talent via the FA pool and stay in win-now mode. So RT, ILB2, and SS, I'd prefer bringing in a veteran for sure. Same for OLB if you think you can get one who won't break the bank. WR2, RB2, ILB3/4, SS (if necessary), and Punter, I think you draft.
TDC: I think the Texans can spackle of their holes with youth. The cap will hinder any major moves. The one move I’d strongly consider is bringing in safety Ed Reed for a visit. A rotation with Quin and Danieal Manning would help keep his legs fresh, free up Manning to return more kicks, and he could bring the leadership I think is sorely lacking. He’s a coach-on-the-field and that back end looked lost at times. Pipe dream? Yes, but I take that look.
RM: I'd be scraping every penny together that I could to make a last run at this before Andre Johnson settles down into merely being very good. I expect the Texans will not see it this way, because they never have.
UT: Hard to answer this one. I would try to get as many needs as possible filled in the draft, and get maybe one or two impact players in free agency (just off the top of my head, maybe a wide receiver).
How confident are you that the Texans will do any of this to improve the roster?
BFD: From a personnel standpoint, aside from NT, I think the team does a fine job addressing team needs. Posey was clearly an overdraft, and Martin isn't the answer at WR, so I'm especially concerned here. Overall, though, I think the team will make intelligent personnel moves.
BK: Rick Smith is one of the best GM's in the league, so I'm sure whatever he does will benefit the team. I'm confident that the 2013 Texans will be better than the 2012 Texans.
MDC: Click Here.
TDC: The Texans should recognize they're close but need to make changes or else they'll be the 2010s version of San Diego.
RM: Fairly, except about Joe.
UT: Not in the least.
Pepper in your own sage thoughts below, BRBers.